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Lymph Nodes in the Jaw – What to Do

Swollen lymph nodes are a clear sign that the immune system is actively fighting an infection. The causes of the sometimes painful swelling are usually harmless, but serious diseases are rarely the cause. If the lymph nodes in the jaw are swollen, heat and hot tea can help.

What are lymph nodes and what are their functions?

The jaw is the name of the two bones between which the teeth of humans and other vertebrates are located. The so-called cervical lymph nodes are located in the lower jaw and cannot normally be felt. However, lymph nodes do not only occur in the jaw but also in many other parts of the body - in total, each person has about 600 to 700 of these small nodes.

They are an important part of the immune system, as the lymph nodes are primarily responsible for the fishing-out of pathogens such as bacteria or viruses. The lymph nodes release more white blood cells (the so-called lymphocytes) and therefore increase in size. Swollen lymph nodes are thus always a sign that the body is currently fighting a disease. The doctor refers to this symptom as lymphadenitis.

The swelling usually disappears automatically within two to three weeks after the infection subsides.

What causes swollen lymph nodes?

If the lymph nodes in the lower jaw swell, there are often viral or bacterial infections of the neck and/or the respiratory organs behind them. Very often the swelling of the lymph nodes in the jaw occurs during a simple cold or in the course of a viral flu, but other infections may also be possible causes:

  • Pharyngitis (inflammation of the throat)
  • Tonsillitis (angina)
  • Epstein-Barr virus (also known as Pfeiffer's glandular fever)
  • Measles
  • Rubella
  • Lyme disease

Swollen lymph nodes are typically associated with other symptoms of the disease. These include fatigue, exhaustion, headache, a sore throat, congested nose and a cold (sinusitis), cough and/or fever. All of these symptoms or just a few may occur. In some cases, however, the lymph nodes in the jaw seem to swell without any reason. However, an infection may also be present if you feel apparently healthy. If swollen lymph nodes also occur without further signs of disease, then protection is initially called for.

In childhood, the lymph nodes in the jaw swell very frequently, which is no cause for concern. The child's immune system is still in the initial phase, which sometimes leads to excessive reactions of the lymphatic system.

When should you see a doctor?

The causes for the swollen lymph nodes in the jaw are not always so harmless. A swelling of the lymph nodes in the mandible is sometimes also an indication of a serious disease such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Various types of cancer, in particular lymphoma and leukaemia
  • Certain autoimmune diseases such as lupus of the lungs
  • Diseases of the thyroid gland
  • Cysts or tumours (lipomas) in the jaw area

Occasionally, an intolerance to certain medications may also be the cause. If the lymph nodes in the jaw swell, you should consult a doctor for one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Swollen lymph nodes do not subside after one week
  • Lymph nodes in the lower jaw continue to swell, becoming significantly larger than pea-sized
  • In the case of swelling without a recognisable cause
  • If swollen lymph nodes occur on only one side of the body
  • With simultaneous inexplicable weight loss
  • Symptoms such as fever and night sweats

A visit to the dentist is also advisable if the lymph nodes in the jaw swell due to gum inflammation or even suppuration of the cavities.

How can you relieve discomfort and pain yourself?

Since the causes of the swollen lymph nodes in the jaw are usually harmless, pain and other symptoms can be alleviated with the following household remedies:

  • keep throat warm in case of sore throat, cooling does not help in case of swollen lymph nodes in the jaw
  • warm up a towel and put it around your neck
  • gargle with salt water (dissolve one teaspoon of table salt in 250 millilitres of warm water)
  • drink warm ginger tea in small sips (peel a small piece of ginger, grate and pour over 250 millilitres of hot water, leave to stand for ten minutes, strain)
  • freshly cooked, hot chicken soup also helps

In addition, you should take it easy on yourself and refrain from sports and other physically strenuous activities until the infection has healed.

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